Jenna Markowitz stands in front of the barre.
She doesn’t see me, not yet. This is a small room, barely 20 feet across with a mirror lining one of the walls. And still she doesn’t see me, only because I stand in the barely-lit doorway, and anyway why would anyone have any reason to look at me at all?
I am nothing special. I’ve got olive skin and brown eyes and mousy brown hair. I’ve got a small nose that’s too low on my face and a mouth that barely speaks at all. Even on the dance floor I can’t point my toes properly.
And I’ve come to this little studio every Wednesday for half a year. Hump day. The worst dang day of the week. Just to take some stress off this game that we’re playing. And no one’s ever been here before.
Least of all Jenna Markowitz. Yet there she is, sun streaming onto her like a big yellow spotlight. Dark hair up tight in a bun, so that I can see the elegant curve of her neck. Blue dress rustling slightly with a phantom breeze. Her arm is elegantly curved around her, her left leg pointed outward in a nice degage.
Huh. Wouldn’t have pegged her for a ballerina.
I bite my lip, feeling the urge to leave. There’s no reason to stay.
But right then, because I simply have the best luck in the world, she turns toward the doorway. And all at once, what was supposed to be a Wednesday afternoon of peace and quiet becomes the most uncomfortable thing I’ve ever experienced.
She says, “Madeline?” and her blue eyes fix on mine and suddenly I can’t breathe. Is it hot in here or is that just me? My throat feels dry, and the walls close in on me.
My fingers tighten over the strap of my bag. “I can go,” I say. Try to say, but instead I decide to choke on my saliva.
Oh gosh. Oh gosh oh gosh oh gosh. Here I am, coughing in front of the most popular girl at school, making a fool of myself as I always do.
I bet she’s filming. I would be.
I hear laughter behind me, and I feel my cheeks heat up. Tears prick at my eyes, from the coughing or the humiliation I don’t know.
Then a hand grabs at my jean jacket. My eyes draw to it: red nails, trimmed and shiny, slim fingers and perfect knuckles.
I nearly faint. Somebody start writing my obituary! Cause of death: one perfectly manicured hand.
I feel myself being pulled up, and instantly I’m face to face with Jenna Markowitz. Three-time prom queen winner, class president, valedictorian Jenna Markowitz. With her sapphire eyes and her perky nose and her perfect mouth. She’s laughing.
“Are you okay?” she asks between giggles.
Let me die. “Yes,” I squeak, even though I’m decorating my tombstone in my head.
“Here,” she says, and suddenly there’s a plastic water bottle in my hands. “Drink. Calm yourself down.”
She’s a lot shorter than me, so much that I can see over the top of her head. I thought she’d be taller.
I uncap the bottle and drain half of it. She still stands in front of me, smiling without a hint of satire. There’s a dimple on her left cheek, but not on her right. I focus on it as I swallow.
“What are you doing here?” she asks when I finish. It’s not icy or sarcastic like I thought it would be. Almost… kind.
But no. How could a cheerleader be kind? Absurd.
I attempt at a smile. I’m not sure it works. “I come every Wednesday.”
“Really? Wow, I just found this studio today.”
Yeah, no kidding. It’s in a small alleyway off Second Street, never approached, never entered. People don’t tend to notice things that don’t concern them.
Without precedent, I blurt, “Are you going to post that video?” My mother tells me I have no filter between my mouth in my brain. I tell her that I do--it just doesn’t work 90% of the time.
She arches an eyebrow. Of course she manages to make it look effortless. “What video?”